Recognising Hypothermia In Dogs

Recognising Hypothermia In Dogs

Health & Safety

We all know how important it is never to leave a dog in a car when the weather is warm but the same can be said when winter is here and it's freezing outside. You may have not thought about it, but leaving a dog in a freezing car could be as much as recipe for disaster as it is when you leave them in a car during the summertime.

Leaving a dog in a car when the weather is cold means hypothermia could set in and it happens pretty quickly. Hypothermia is a medical condition where the body temperature drops to levels that are far too low. There are three phases of hypothermia namely, mild, moderate and then severe, which are explained below.

Mild Cases of Hypothermia in Dogs

With mild hypothermia, the body's temperature is anything between 90 - 99°F (or 32 – 35°C), which is the beginning of a worrying situation if not dealt with as soon as possible.

Moderate Cases of Hypothermia in Dogs

If a dog is suffering from moderate hypothermia, their body temperature is anything between 82 - 90°F (28 – 32°C), and owners should be very concerned if they find their pets looking lethargic and very, very cold.

Severe Cases of Hypothermia in Dogs

Dogs with severe hypothermia have an extremely low body temperature which can be as low as 82°F (28°C) and would need immediate veterinary attention.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

When a dog is unable to maintain their normal body temperature, this is when hypothermia sets in and it causes their central nervous system (CNS) to slowly shut down. The condition is serious as it may well affect their hearts and blood flow too. Their breathing and immune systems are affected with dogs slowly losing consciousness which results in them falling into a coma like state.

The symptoms of hypothermia can vary due to the how severe it is. When a dog is suffering from the mild form, symptoms to watch out for include the following:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of alertness
  • Shivering

Symptoms that are commonly seen when a dog is suffering from moderate hypothermia include the following:

  • A stiffness in a dogs' muscles
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dogs are often in a stupor-like state
  • Shallow & slow breathing

Symptoms that are characteristic of a severe case of hypothermia include the following:

  • Dogs will have fixed and dilated pupils
  • It is hard to hear there heartbeat
  • Dogs have real difficulty in breathing
  • Coma

The Causes of Hypothermia in Dogs

A dog can suffer from hypothermia when the temperature falls but with this said, newborn puppies can suffer from the condition even when the surrounding temperatures are normal, and this is particularly true of smaller breeds. Together with very young pups, small breeds are more prone to lose body heat faster and therefore are considered as being at higher risk. The same can be said of older dogs and especially geriatric pooches. Dogs that are under anaesthesia are also considered to be at risk which is why they need to be monitored at all times during surgery.

However, there are other factors that may increase the risk of a dog suffering from hypothermia which are as follows:

  • Disease of the hypothalamus – which is part of the brain responsible for regulating a dogs' appetite and their body temperatures
  • Hypothyroidism – a condition where the levels of thyroid hormones are too low in the body

The Diagnosis

If you think your dog is suffering from hypothermia, you need to get them to the vet as soon as you can where their body temperature will be taken. In very severed cases of hypothermia the vet may have to perform a rectal or esophagael probe. A thorough examination of your pet will need to be carried out which includes checking if they have an irregular heartbeat and if they are experiencing any problems breathing. An ECG will establish your dogs' cardiovascular status.

Should the vet believe there may be another underlying cause for your dog having a below normal body temperature, they will want to take further tests which include a urinalysis and some blood tests. If the test come back showing low blood sugar, any metabolic disorders, heart disease or find there are anaesthetics and sedatives in your pet's system, the condition will be treated accordingly.

Treatment of Hypothermia in Dogs

Dogs in a state of hypothermia need to be actively treated until their normal body temperature returns. They need to be kept still so as to prevent any further loss of heat which also helps reduce the risk of them suffering an irregular heartbeat which could prove fatal. Dogs normally experience a further drop in body temperature as they are being re-warmed which is perfectly normal and to be expected.

If you find your dog is suffering from mild hypothermia, they can be treated by wrapping them in blankets or some kind of thermal insulation to prevent them losing any more heat. If it is moderate hypothermia, they would need to be actively re-warmed using external heat sources, namely a radiant heater or even heater pads which may be applied to the dogs' body to warm up their “cores”. In order to prevent your dogs' skin getting burnt, they would need to have some sort of protective layer between their bodies and the heat source.

When severe hypothermia is an issue, then invasive core warming is essential which includes the introduction of warm enemas as well as warm fluids administered intravenously. Dogs suffering from severe hypothermia would also need to be helped with their breathing and would be given oxygen, administered via a face mask. They would also require warmed IV fluids in order to support their blood volume.

Prevention is Essential

It goes without saying that preventing hypothermia from happening in the first place is essential and to never allow your dog to be exposed to cold temperatures for any length of time. However, there are some dogs which are considered high risk and this includes very young dogs and geriatric dogs. If a dog has very low body fat, they too are at greater risk. Other reasons why a dog may be at greater risk include the following:

  • Hypothalamic disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Anaesthesia
  • Surgery
  • Sick or newborn puppies with low blood sugar


Taking care of a dog means making sure they are safe and warm at all times. With the winter fast approaching, there may be times when you would need to leave your dog in the car but this should never be for very long and you should never lock them in when you do. If there is a problem and you are unable to get back to your vehicle, at least someone will be able to get into the car and rescue your dog.



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